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The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: a Handbook

Hand specimen picture panel
Thin section picture panel


Appendix 1: Keywords and Definitions
Appendix 2: Physical Layout of Sherds Housed in the NRFRC


South-West Black-burnished ware 1 (SOW BB 1)

Nine samples

This is a handmade fabric first distinguished from south-east Dorset BB1 in 1975 (Bidwell 1975, 236). Although Bidwell defined both a coarse and fine variant at Exeter, only the coarse fabric is included here (Bidwell, 1979, 173, fabric 40). Three significant attributes allowed SOW BB1 to be distinguished from Dorset BB1: it is generally finer and sandier; in early examples the core is commonly sandwiched between well-defined paler-coloured margins; and a black slip, deep and lustrous in the best examples, covers the visible surfaces (Holbrook & Bidwell 1991, 114). The repertoire of forms is similar to that recorded for Dorset BB1, although production seems to have ceased in the first half of the 3rd century (ibid, 94) and as a result the latest BB1 forms were not produced in SOW BB1.

General appearance

In our samples the break is usually black (3/0), occasionally dull dark red-brown (2.5YR 5/4) or grey-brown (5YR 6/2), with grey (5/0), grey-brown (10YR 5/2) or red-brown (2.5YR 6/4) margins. The surfaces are usually black and slipped as described above. The fabric is hard, with a hackly fracture and smooth feel. On jars, splash and run marks are usually evident on the inside of the rim where the slip terminates and this is obvious on several of our samples.

Hand specimen

Overall the inclusions are ill sorted, measuring to c 1.0mm. Quartz is abundant, normally 0.1–0.3mm, and set in a sparsely micaceous (silver) matrix. All other inclusions are sparse, but flint (0.7–1.0mm) and red-brown iron-rich grains (0.2–0.9mm) are occasionally present.

Thin section

Abundant well-sorted small quartz (c <0.2mm) and common larger grains, to c 0.6mm, are set in a sparsely micaceous (muscovite) matrix. Also common and falling into these size ranges are polycrystalline quartz and flint. Still similar in size are sparse to rare opaques, feldspar and fine-grained sandstone. Rare clay pellets and rounded ?organic black-rimmed voids measure up to 1.0mm.


Although no kilns are known, the presence of kyanite in a heavy mineral suite from SOW BB1 indicates a provenance east of Devon (Williams in Bidwell 1991, 114), and a source in west Dorset or south Somerset has been proposed (Bidwell 1991, 90).


Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter


Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter; Vindolanda Site Museum


Bidwell, P T, 1975 Coarse pottery, in The excavation of a first-century Roman farmstead and a late Neolithic settlement, Topsham, Devon (J Jarvis & V A Maxfield), Proc Devon Archaeol Soc 33, 235–44

Bidwell, P T, 1979 The legionary bath-house and basilica and forum at Exeter, Exeter Archaeol Rep 1

Farrar, R A H, 1973 The techniques and sources of Romano-British black-burnished ware, in Current research in Romano-British coarse pottery (ed A P Detsicas), CBA Res Rep 10, 67–103

Holbrook, N, & Bidwell, P T, 1991 Roman finds from Exeter, Exeter Archaeol Rep 4

Williams, D F, 1977 The Romano-British black-burnished industry: an essay on characterization by heavy mineral analysis, in Pottery and early commerce. Characterization and trade in Roman and later Ceramics (ed D P S Peacock), 163–220

Plate 102: Fresh sherd break of SOW BB 1 (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 102: Fresh sherd break of SOW BB 1 (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 102.1: Photomicrograph of SOW BB 1 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 102.1: Photomicrograph of SOW BB 1 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)

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